I've been trying to think about how to write this without veering into ridiculously sentimental and/or hackneyed cliché for a long time. The last few weeks have had me thinking a lot about the concept of "home." It's where the heart is, after all.
I'm fortunate to have a lot of places I self-identify as "homes:" places where I instantly feel like myself. The weirdest thing for me, though, is that the self I feel like in each of those places is a little bit different. Coming back to Notre Dame last weekend for Zach and Colleen's beautiful wedding brought me back to a place that I will always cherish as one of my very favorite homes.
Claire and I had a long conversation about it the day before the wedding as we killed time waiting for the men to pick up their tuxes. She's made it back to ND a lot more than I have in the last few years, and our perspectives were a little bit different, but she absolutely got what I was thinking, and I have a feeling a lot of Notre Dame friends will as well.
Last year when I journeyed to South Bend for another October wedding, I ditched all my friends and headed to campus on Friday afternoon for a few hours of alone time. I was blissfully alone for the first time since I walked to Starbucks on graduation morning, almost four years earlier, and the moment I got out of my car and saw the Dome shining before me I burst into uncontrollable tears.
I've thought a lot about that moment for the last year, and was wondering if coming back last weekend would affect me the same way. Instead I just felt joy, peace and an incredible sense of contentment. Why was that, I wondered? What had changed in the last year that brought me 180 degrees from a sense of grief to a feeling of comfort?
I think that, for me, Notre Dame was a place that fundamentally ingrained itself in who I am, and in intensely meaningful ways. It shaped my faith, my identity, my sense of right and wrong, and my values. It's a place where I came into my own intellectually and spiritually, where I struggled and succeeded in equal parts. I found my best friend there, I became part of so many things so much bigger than me. I traveled the world, drank too much, stayed up too late, and laughed until my sides hurt. Bottom line, I became a person I really, really liked at Notre Dame.
After college, I lost sight of that girl a bit, which I've written about ad nauseum. I floundered through a job I hated, and lost a relationship that had defined me, similarly to how Notre Dame had. My career and relationship, however, hadn't reinforced those good, positive, nascent adult aspects of my character that Notre Dame had brought forth, and I think that when I came home in October of 2014, I cried because I knew that I wasn't that girl anymore. I still felt lost and alone and adrift. Notre Dame, though still "my" place, felt more remote than ever, and that girl from four years ago seemed lost to me.
Coming home this year, so much has changed and all for the better. 2014 in general was a year of growing pains and grief for me, and 2015 has brought a personal renaissance in the areas that matter most. I have a close, strong group of friends. I see and cherish my family. I go to church. I work out and eat better. I've rediscovered that happy, bright, caring and vibrant person again, and coming back on campus I think I recognized that.
Notre Dame is always going to hold the best of me. It will be a place where, above all, I learned. I can see now that it's shaped aspects of my character that I value too much to compromise, and that I am who I am largely because I got to call this place home for four years. Just like my other homes, it will always hold a unique, special set of memories for me, like all the others lucky enough to call Our Lady's University home. It will always hold a girl who I can revisit to remind myself of the best of who I can be, and that's, in a word, golden.